Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mr. El-Baradei: Are you Losing the Momentum?

The return of Mohamed El-Baradei to Egypt and his readiness to challenge President Hosni Mubarak in the upcoming presidential elections was like throwing a pebble in the stagnant waters of Egyptian politics. It stirred political debate, mobilized many hitherto apolitical and raised hopes for the possibility of change towards democracy and the rule of law in the country that has been weighed down by authoritarianism and corruption for almost six decades.

Recently, however, there has been a growing feeling that the initial fervor that accompanied the beginning of El-Baradei's adventure has been dwindling. El-Baradei and his close associates have probably overlooked, or misinterpreted, a number of points.

First, the disparity of power between the Egyptian regime and its opponents is vast. After long decades in power, the Egyptian regime has become well-entrenched in Egyptian society. By controlling the security apparatus, the media, and dozens of government agencies that operate in all fields of public life, the Egyptian regime has risen to a colossal, octopus-like entity, thus perceived by many as metaphysical and unassailable. Moreover, in Egypt's centralized political system, the president enjoys draconian powers, by virtue of the constitution and a deep-rooted cultural heritage.

Opposing, the state - this gigantic, unmerciful establishment that has many carrots and sticks at its disposal - is not less challenging than swimming against an invincible current. Even the unprecedented pressure exerted by the United States – the world's only superpower and the provider of massive economic and military assistance to the Egyptian regime – bore little fruit. To deflect George W. Bush's feverish push for political reform in the years 2004 and 2005, Mubarak only introduced cosmetic changes to appease his paymasters, but he ultimately kept his strong grip on power.

In battles with stronger foes, El-Baradei must remember, weaker parties should make use of all weapons at hand.

Secondly, youth comprises the vast majority of Mohamed El-Baradei's constituency. He directly addresses them and insists on the leading role they can play in the battle for change. But in contrast to his quiet, gradual, and calculated style, the young demand a bolder and more aggressive approach. There are signs that many of his staunch supporters are beginning to find him uninspiring, hence unworthy of leadership.

Momentum is one of the weapons needed to maintain unity of any movement. Political leaders cannot be divorced from their followers. After all, what is a leader really worth without followers? And what is left of a movement that vows change if it loses its momentum? This is not an invitation for El-Baradei to substitute wisdom and reason with the impulsiveness and spontaneity of youth, but incorporating rather than alienating one's base of support is undoubtedly a must.

Counting on the unquestionable support of masses of young Egyptians would not be possible unless these peoples' concerns, thoughts, aspirations and emotions are listened to, and acted on.

Thirdly, drama is crucial to success in the game of politics. Drama is not equal to theatrical performances that capitalize on hollow rhetoric or pure demagogy. It is rather the personal embodiment of a leader's moral and political blueprint, using a creative mishmash of gesture politics, elements of surprise, and a sensible dose of excitement, in order to raise awareness and foster acquiescence.

As the modern history of the Arab world vividly demonstrates, too much personalization is catastrophic, but too little of it is suicidal. Lackluster leaders are quickly forgotten, however qualified and devoted. Even in democratic societies, the impact of leadership is enormous.

In the Arab world, moreover, the dynamics that govern the relationship between leaders and people are peculiar. The masses of unsophisticated people do not really grasp the deeper meanings of notions such as "democracy," "secularism," and "pluralism." They would yearn for freedom and dignity, and wish for an improvement in their living conditions. But they would not decode the intricacies of politics, or understand its underlying philosophical foundations. Without passion, leaders' chances of success are minimal.

That’s why King Hassan II of Morocco explained: “I am obliged to personify power as strongly as possible, for people do not obey a program or a plan. They obey men, a team of men, and it is all for the best if that team is embodied in a chief and symbolized by one face, one voice, one personality."

Perhaps out of inattentiveness to these vital realities, El-Baradei frequently stresses that Egypt "does not need a savior." This posture evokes a serious dilemma: unless El-Baradei's followers see him as a savior and a leader, they will quit following him. If the link between leader and people is cut, then the very act of leadership is likewise cut from its roots. El-Baradei would be shooting himself in the foot.

El-Baradei needs to incorporate the politics of spectacle into his program of action.

Nael M. Shama

* This article was published in Daily News (Egypt) on July 15, 2010.


Tinkerbell said...

Thank you for this, and for continuing to feed this blog with your words. I agree with you that a more charismatic leader at this point of time would have driven millions of supporting Egyptians (rather that 10s of thousands today) to change a lot faster. However, this way of doing things (adopted by the Moroccan leader) is short living, i would rather have people obey a program or a plan rather that a person, i would rather have reform that is sustainable and does not end with the death of the leader.. People are mortal but thoughts and beliefs are immortal. This educates the masses, and helps bring up a wiser public.

Hatem Y. Ezz Eldin said...

I repect your view point, but I have a comment on this part:
"But in contrast to his quiet, gradual, and calculated style, the young demand a bolder and more aggressive approach. There are signs that many of his staunch supporters are beginning to find him uninspiring, hence unworthy of leadership". Do the Youth suddenly discovered he is an old man? Do they just know now that he is a quiet, non agressive person? I guess no. They knew him well, and they knew very well his diplomatic legacy. I argue that their support of El-Baradei is more than clear evidence that they don't want agressive attitude or actions to take place in thier own country. Thank You.

Pochahontas said...

Very nice article. However, my opinion is that El Baradei is loosing the momentum yes ... but It is inevitable..he can't help it. He does not have what it takes to be a leader, i am not only talking about charisma but also he lacks the experience of dealing with the political figures in Egypt, and does not have his foot on the ground. On the other hand, I am glad he is here after all.. even as a sign that there is still hope in this country.

And as a response for hatem's comment up here .. well we knew he was an old man and non aggressive person but we had high expectations maybe irrational ones after all these years of stagnation. I myself haven't known any president other than the current .. for my whole life!